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Poetics | Poetics | The Poet as Learning the Poet's Voice

5. The Poet as Learning the Poet's Voice

     While growing up I traveled extensively in British Columbia, especially on the coast and in the Kootenay region near Castlegar, where my father was born. The spirit of place that is present in my language (both mythically and sensuously) is a direct result of those childhood experiences; my travels with my family were the beginning of locating 'eros in nature.' Locating eros in nature is in accordance with the indigenous spirit of the west coast—a region that is abundant in natural beauty, mystery, and the richness of mythic lore. Since then, the struggle has been to evolve a working poetics in which numen and phenomenon speak simultaneously. Both the actual (what we see, feel, know to be true in the practical world of necessity) and the imagined (what we dream, desire, discover in the world of the imagination) seek to be present in the poem.

     In the spring 1985 issue of Poetry Canada Review, David Donnell wrote: "what a lot of Canadian poets are becoming internationally famous for, perhaps partly because of the loose federal structure in the country, is a capacity for dramatic description of closely-observed daily life in regionally defined frameworks." Although some of the imagery in my poetry comes from living on the west coast, I don't see my poetry as being solely descriptive of a region. My poetry is concerned with spirit of place, infused with a particular sensibility born out of locale. And I've taken as my subject matter what I consider to be the 'universal' or archetypal aspects to experience—eros and nature, myth and landscape, beauty and destruction, suffering and time.

     My concern is with craft, not just with content or style, or even language—the poem as an entity. My poetry belongs to the larger tradition of lyric poetry, albeit with a west coast sensibility. I am a lyric poet, who happens to have been born and raised on the western edge of Canada. I have kept struggling to give voice to the authentic emotion and experience. I write with a measure of humour and humanness. As a lyric poet, I write poetry that is intimate, although that isn't always the same thing as being personal. At best, my poems are infused with a lyric intensity. I always try to present, in the most direct way possible, the entire complexity of my experience, with as much lyric grace as I can muster.

     I learned the elements of my craft through my reading in high school and in university. From Yeats I learned rhythm; from the Imagists, Pound and H.D. (and also from Mallarme and Guillevic) I learned a visual sensibility; from Keats, his sonorous line, his music. From Hart Crane and Cavafy I learned the lyric moment; from Wallace Stevens, I learned about wit and humour. From Henry James I learned about the illumination of the writer's intelligence, moving deliberately through every line. From Sappho and Euripides I learned to love my psyche, my soul. And from poets like Pat Lowther I learned to ground my writing in my roots, my own identity. And from Sylvia Plath, Denise Levertov, Jane Austen, Charlotte Bronte, Jean Rhys, Kate Chopin, Edith Wharton, Janet Frame, and other women writers, I learned how it was possible to be brave. While in university I traveled in Greece, across Canada, and also lived in the United States. I have been interested in the work of classicist Norman O. Brown (with whom I studied at the University of Rochester, New York); depth psychologist Carl Jung; and French philosopher Gaston Bachelard.

     The first poem I published was in my high school yearbook—perhaps I am now part way along this road where I'm always learning the craft of poetry. It is a luxury to choose to remain silent when there is writing to be done. Poetry is more than language and more than style or ideas. It is a persistent and perfectionist art, and through the poet giving voice, the world can be revisioned.

  Carolyn Zonailo
Poetry Toronto, 1985

Copyright by Carolyn Zonailo:, 2004 | Poetics | The Poet as Learning the Poet's Voice
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